By Kyle Clayton

Skagway Postmaster Adriane Franks is one of 50 veterans depicted in an art exhibit and book that features former service members from every state.

Mary Whyte, a Charleston, South Carolina, watercolor artist, spent seven years touring the country at her own expense, finding and interviewing veterans from all 50 states and painting their portraits for her project.

In addition to her art show, which opened in October in Charleston, Whyte produced a book, “We the People: Portrait of Veterans in America.”

“I did it almost entirely in secret,” Whyte said of her search for veterans. “One reason is that I wanted to make sure I completed it before I announced it. If you have an idea you hope is fresh and original, you want to keep it under wraps.”

She had to get creative about how she funded her project. She made her way to Alaska the way many tourists do, with a slight twist.

“I figured one of the ways I could get to Alaska would be if a conducted a (painting) workshop on a cruise ship,” Whyte said.

Before arriving in Skagway, she called the chamber of commerce and various businesses to ask about local veterans. After learning about Franks, she made a trip to the post office upon landing in Skagway.

“I spent a few hours with her, trailing her around the post office and asking her about her service,” Whyte said after surprising Franks at the post office.

“She had me pose. She sketched me at the post office, which was really embarrassing. Tons of people were watching the whole thing,” Franks said. “I didn’t hear from her again for a long time. My mom found my portrait, a picture of me on the Internet. I was like ‘what!?’”

Franks served in the Air Force in Operation Desert Storm/ Desert Shield from 1989 to 1993. She used to live in Haines before coming to Skagway.

The series of paintings are on display at the City Gallery in Charleston, South Carolina, through Dec. 22. The paintings feature a diverse group of veterans from different military branches and backgrounds including a homeless man, street musicians who met and married while serving, and a former U.S. Special Forces soldier turned fireman.

Whyte’s portrait of Franks is titled, “Special Delivery.”

Franks was invited to the exhibit opening in Charleston in October, where she met the other veterans.

“I sat next to an astronaut. He retired from NASA,” Franks said. “It was kind of surreal. I feel grateful for being a part of it,” she said. “I got to meet a lot of good people. We all had a common factor and that we are a part of this really great thing.”

Despite the veterans’ differences, Whyte said, they shared one thing in common. “They set aside their plans to serve their country and were asked to do things that were not in their self-interest for the interest of all the rest of us and the ideals we hold.”